Published by Senator Roméo Dallaire on 28 May 2012
Canada's last Defence White Paper was published in 1994. While subsequent policy statements have been issued in 2005, and most recently in 2008 with the Canada First Defense Strategy (CFDS), the Canadian Forces (CF) have been left to rely on dated or sparse documents that contain unreliable figures and vague policy direction.
Our military requires an unambiguous statement of what is expected of the Armed Forces, how the Forces will be structured, what resources will be available to them, and how the government will guarantee that it will be sustained in the future. With the combat mission in Afghanistan winding down, and on the heels of deep cuts by the Conservatives to the Department of National Defense (DND) budget, we must take this opportunity to set the direction for the future of Canadian defence.
Canadian defence expenditures have increased substantially over the past decade. However, over the same period spending on diplomacy and development has wilted. One need not look further than the slew of embassies forced to shutter doors or the government's withdrawal of development aid from Africa. A degree of balance to the government's spending on the three Ds—defence, development, and diplomacy—must be restored.
A similar call to action was made by retired general Andrew Leslie in his 2011 Report on Transformation. In it, he noted the need for deep restructuring in an already bloated CF bureaucracy. In practice, this means not only finding effective savings opportunities, but also ensuring that department's annual escalator as outlined in the CFDS is honoured.
As a result, DND and the CF will be required to manage their funds with greater efficiency and cost effectiveness.
Finding such efficiencies will ensure that the Armed Forces have the funds they require to buy the equipment they need and avoid the rust-out of the past. As part of this effort, a new White Paper should include a review of Canada's defence procurement priorities, practices, and military infrastructure requirements.
But efficiencies will not be enough. When preparing a new defence White Paper, DND and the CF should also be compelled to set priorities and make difficult choices about certain capabilities. The end result of the efforts should be an affordable, yet highly-deployable, Armed Forces that will remain a source of Canadian pride and influence in the coming decades.
Structural changes and budget cuts are not the only reasons the government needs to show leadership on the defence file. It is also imperative that the Canadian government produce a new White Paper as the nature of the threats we and our military face has changed in the last two decades. Threats are increasingly diffuse and transnational. Addressing them requires a whole-of-government approach. Our soldiers must ready to deploy in a world that uses new weapons, technologies, and strategies to achieve its aims.
The challenges of 1994, only a few years out of the breakup of the Soviet Union, have waxed or waned in their importance to Canada. Many of the defence priorities made explicit by the document, such as the renegotiation of the NORAD agreement and the management of potential civil wars in the Balkans are simply out of touch with the contemporary security environment.
In this era, what use is a document that begins with "the Warsaw Pact has been disbanded and the Soviet Union no longer exists"? It should instead make reference to the challenges Canada faces today. New threats such as cyber-terrorism, maritime piracy, and global environmental breakdown have come to the fore over the last two decades, and there can be no doubt that the Canadian Forces will play a crucial role in shepherding Canada through them.
The Canada First Defence Strategy has served its purpose in pulling the CF through Afghanistan with a certain rebuilding of its capacity. The military is now in dire need of something much more substantial to get them through the budget cuts and the decades to come: a new, reform-minded and correctly-costed Defence White Paper.
Quebec Liberal Senator Roméo Dallaire is a retired lieutenant-general and former commander of the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda.